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Concerns About Bird Populations at Center of New Trump Rule

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Friday, January 8, 2021   

SALT LAKE CITY -- In the coming weeks, bird viewers will spread to various pointed in Utah to catch glimpses of bald eagles as they temporarily escape colder regions.

The annual activity comes after the Trump administration stripped protections for migratory birds.

Conservation groups vow to fight the new rule change, which means companies will no longer be penalized if birds are accidentally killed from business actions, including pollution and oil spills.

Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation, said before the switch, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act fined or prosecuted companies for killing migratory birds, whether on purpose or by accident.

"This rule is basically this administration 'flipping the bird' at Congress and the courts and saying, 'It doesn't matter what the courts or Congress say, we can do what we want,' and in this case that means allowing the loss of life of untold numbers of migratory birds," Leahy contended.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the new rule provides regulatory clarification and will reduce lawsuits. Industry leaders and federal officials also say they believe businesses will continue to voluntarily protect bird habitats.

But Leahy pointed out normal industrial activity often unintentionally harms birds, noting oil waste pits kill somewhere between half a million and a million birds a year.

"Power lines can kill nearly 70 million birds per year, communication towers around seven million birds," Leahy added. "So these types of activities can have real impacts on migratory bird populations."

For states with popular bird-viewing spots, Leahy explained a population decline of certain species could have a ripple effect.

"It's one of our most important outdoor activities and most popular, and there's a lot of economic benefits that derive from that," Leahy concluded.

In addition to winter visits from eagles, Utah has what's considered one of the nation's top bird-viewing destinations, which is Farmington Bay at Great Salt Lake.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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